Archive for the ‘Brain’ Category

Ethics forecloses Politics.

Capitalist Organisation captures subaltern biopolitical production.

Affect as an embodied and infinite capacity to affect and be affected can help to disrupt both.

These are working hypotheses. What do they have to do with the Creative Industries and cultural sectors in the UK?

I am reading academic journal articles in the fields of creative industries, organisation studies, business ethics, and affect studies. In this post I want to address some recent journal articles that seem to be using affect in a way that challenges both disciplinary boundaries and the body’s ontology (whose body, which body, where, when?).

My interest here is in understanding better (that’s an intensive quantity!) the state of play in organisation studies–and in specifically creative organisations–around the materiality of affect, posing questions of affect’s ontology, its ecological processes, its relations of motion and rest, its non-human becomings (Deleuze, 1990, Expressionism in philosophy: Spinoza). Why has organisation studies turned to affect in the past five to seven years? Which aspects of affect theory are they most likely to rehearse or reassemble? What does affect do in the discourse of organisation theory? Do we know yet what affect can do in organisations?

The first article is: “The naked manager: The ethical practice of an anti-establishment boss” by Bent Meier Sørensen and Kaspar Villadsen (from the Copenhagen Business School) in Organization 2015, Vol. 22(2) 251– 268.

What’s this article trying to do? Here’s their succinct abstract:

“This article explores how an allegedly ‘non-hierarchical’ and aestheticized managerial practice reconfigures power relations within a creative industry. The key problematic is ‘governmental’ in the sense suggested by Michel Foucault, in as much as the manager’s ethical self-practice—which involves expressive and ‘liberated’ bodily comportment—is used tactically to shape the space of conduct of others in the company. The study foregrounds the managerial body as ‘signifier’ in its own right. Empirically, this is done through an analysis of video material produced by the film company Zentropa about their apparently eccentric Managing Director, Peter Aalbæk. Contrary to much of the literature discussing embodiment and ethics in organization studies, we do not identify an ‘ethics of organization’ dominated by instrumental rationality, efficiency and desire for profit which is ostensibly juxtaposed to a non-alienating, embodied ethics. Rather, when the body becomes invested in management, we observe tensions, tactics of domination and unpredictability.” (p. 251)

 

First, what’s methodologically interesting is that they are using documentary film for analysis of organisational behaviour. They make clear in the article that film — indeed, any visual evidence — has been a dismissed and marginalised source of ‘data.’

 

Arguments for the legitimacy of films as data source have varied, but most of them view films as components in the construction of organizational reality alongside narratives, symbols, images, charts and other representations. Hence, visual artefacts may ‘create, transform, or stabilize particular “versions” of reality’ (Meyer et al., 2013: 509). Taking inspiration from Derrida and Lacan, Foreman and Thatchenkery (1996) argue that there is no fundamental reality of ‘the real’ organization, but merely a set of signifiers, simulacra or representations of it (p. 46). In this perspective, the pictorial elements in a film are signifiers that take part in the system of signification, the symbolic structure that makes up the unconscious. In a similar manner, Gagliardi (1996) conceives of films as representing in a very straightforward manner organizational artefacts which, as such, partake in the ‘aesthetic landscaping’ of the organization. Such artefacts may be practices enacted in ‘real time’, such as management activities that the employees experience, but may also, perhaps at the same time, be reproducible images, such as films and marketing material, which in this way gain force and significance into a wider collective, potentially becoming part of a generalized ‘social imaginary’ (Taylor, 2000). Common to these views is that visual modes of meaning construction are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. (p. 256)

So note the interpretative frame for treatment of films as visual modes of meaning construction that are capable of materializing, organizing and sustaining organizational representations by constituting systems of signs. Pretty standard 70’s era film criticism + critical management studies = ?

So films are signs. Is a manager a sign/ifier? Yes, according to the authors, managers are also sign/ifiers. What of the manager’s body? In this view, the body is always already in language and symbolic/imaginary: the authors thus dodge the difficult question of mediation in affect studies. Note, then, that the authors have set out that film as data is a way in to organizational signification. The signs are symptoms, not of a body, but of the nervous ticks on the face of ideology, as Bhabha once witheringly put it.

This is what I mean:

Taking Derrida’s lead, our objective is not to give a final judgement of the meaning of each image, but to insert it into a play of significations by explicating and intensifying the image’s internal contradictions. Hereby, we hope to open an avenue to question and contest the self-evidence and readily received narrative of the images…Eschewing hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches, our analysis proceeds by observing our central ‘actor’, the manager’s body, as a signifier, ‘in that punctuality in which it appears’ (Foucault, 1972: 25). This non-reductionist approach to a bodily statement (whether verbal or by gestures) does not look for any subjective intentionality or hidden motives but observes it as a ‘pure discursive event’ (Foucault, 1972: 27). (pg. 256-57)

I spent a good portion of my professional life as a researcher and writer and teacher doing some version of the above (although we would be hard pressed to find anywhere in Derrida’s oeuvre in which he describes deconstruction as the explication and intensifying of an image’s internal contradictions; nor can I find anything in Foucault to authorise such a reduction). Today, I feel that this method obscures affect rather than composes with it.

What’s happened to affect? What’s the relation of affect to signification/signs/signifier? Although the authors dutifully cite Deleuze, Spinoza, and Massumi, nowhere do they actually register what is at stake in Deleuze and Massumi’s insistence that affect is not emotion (feeling, mood), nor socially constructed.

I suppose I should’t complain. That organisational studies is taking up the question of affect in a fairly serious way should be a cause for celebration (albeit a very low-key, one-drink kind of fete). But I suppose as well that, politically, which affect becomes hegemonic in organisational studies will have everything to do with the capture of affect in capitalist organisation, mostly in the service of private accumulation, branding, worker control, indebtedness, productivity squeezing (precarity), and continuing and in some ways deepening forms of racial and gender inequalities in the creative and cultural sectors. So those are political stakes: the reduction of affect to emotion to control creative labor, and further entrench an already well established whiteness in the creative industries and cultural sectors (I’m paying specific attention to the UK in this post; in future posts I hope to turn my attention to Cape Town, South Africa and Mumbai, India.)

Lets turn to ethics in this essay. The authors write:

How do we study the body as a vehicle for managerial performance? Of course, even the ‘rationalized’ organization’s ‘rational’ managers have bodies, but those bodies were conceived more as uniforms or at least as disciplined by uniforms (Harding, 2002). In contrast, in what has become known as the ‘post-bureaucratic organization’ (Grey and Garsten, 2001; Maravelias, 2007), the knowledge-intensive, creative sectors reveal new types of managerial practices. These new practices not only express what we may term ‘postmodern’, decentred and anti-hierarchical imageries but also echo wholly new configurations of management. Indeed, these complex configurations have been termed ‘soft bureaucracies’ (Courpasson, 2000), where more flexible structures are being deployed by an elite, who bypass the (shrinking) middle management with a softer, seemingly more humane, managerial practice without annulling the functioning bureaucratic forms. (p. 252)

The body as instrument and target of managerial performance is a question of ethics (and politics?). This is a forced, artificial embodied ethics and its violence is starkly apparent in the creative industries as the analysis of Peter Aalbæk shows. The new types of managerial practices in the creative sectors focus specifically on the ethics of embodied affect. As the authors note,

In this article, we wish to pursue this embodied/incarnated perspective by problematizing what we view as an increasingly urgent obligation in contemporary management to perform an ‘embodied ethics’. By embodied ethics, we refer to bodily acts that are performed in order to display a practical ethos. We assume this ethos to be particularly pronounced in the so-called creative sector. (252)

So the aims seem to be to resist the demand for organisationally appropriate affect as worker subjectivation in the creative industries. What does that mean exactly? The work of Camille Barbagallo, Sylvia Federici, Emma Dowling, and many others including Hardt and Negri all point to affective labour or carework as a specifically gendered and increasingly widespread form of worker control. That much is certain.

This is where the distinction between affect and emotion/care becomes difficult to maintain rigorously. And sometimes I wonder what’s the point in trying? Wouldn’t it be better if affect were embraced as this more even all- encompassing concept, and wouldn’t that be a “more bodily” way of framing affect?

My short answer is that something else is at stake in maintaining the distinction: affect as the variable material capacity to affect and be affected is preindividual (Simondon), ecological (Guattari), non-human (Grosz, Haraway), and non-capitalist (Hardt and Negri, et al). As such, emotion is a capture and organisation of actual and virtual intensities of affect, and Massumi and Manning in their various works make clear why this is important not merely conceptually, but in terms of experimental practice. We get a better sense of this capture of affect in this passage from a textbook on therapeutical practice with troubled adolescents:

There are two broad categories of emotion: emotions that are easy to cope with and promote productive behaviour, and emotions that are extreme, difficult to manage and block productive behaviour. Unrealistic interpretations are the cause of many of the second class of emotion; a more realistic interpretation of events for the child can free them from the difficult emotion. Understanding the links between events, the interpretation of events and the emotions that follow is an important key to resolving emotional difficulties. Parenting style, how much structure, nurture, time, attention, playfulness and challenge a parent or carer brings, is crucial. (Taylor, 2010, A practical guide to caring for children and teenagers with attachment difficulties, pg. 103)

 

Experimental practice is central to the Creative Industries and Cultural Sectors, but in very different ways. Having had substantive conversations with Lois Keidan, Director of the Live Art Development Agency (I’m a Board of Trustees member) and with Keiko Higashi, Director of Project Phakama (I’ve been Chair of the Board for the past three years) over the past year, the distinction between creative industries practices and cultural sector practices seems very real. The Creative Industries in the UK (as elsewhere) have largely been dominated by software production and new media entrepreneurship (going by percentage of gross value added). It is thoroughly neoliberal, and unabashedly so. The cultural sector however comes out of very different formations, some of which Andrew Ross discusses in ‘Nice Work if you can Get it’, where he specifically contrasts John Maynard Keynes the first director of Arts Council England, who had an almost nonchalant view of arts policy, with today’s New Labour Tories and their austerity agenda.

As far as cultural policy went, almost every feature of the old dispensation was now subject to a makeover. When the Arts Council was established in 1945, its first chair, the serenely mischievous John Maynard Keynes, described the evolution of its famous ‘arms length’ funding principle as having ‘happened in a very English, informal, unostentatious way – half-baked, if you like’. Keynes would have us believe that Britain acquired its arts policy, like its empire, in a fit of absent-mindedness. In truth, it was simply falling in line with every other Western social democracy by acknowledging that the market failure of the arts should be counteracted through state subsidies. Keynes’s batty boosterism – ‘Let every part of Merry England be merry in its own way. Death to Hollywood’ – was a far cry from the regimen of requirements demanded fifty years later by Chris Smith, the first DCMS minister, who declared ex officio that he did not believe in ‘grants for grants’ sake’. Wherever possible, the 13 industries included in the government’s 1998 mapping document (film, television and radio, publishing, music, performing arts, arts and antiques, crafts, video and computer games, architecture, design, fashion, software and computer services, advertising) had to be treated like any other industry with a core business model. While it was acknowledged that some institutions and individuals would still require public support to produce their work, this would be spoken of as an investment with an anticipated return, rather than a subsidy offered to some supplicant, grant-dependent entity. Moreover, much of the arts funding would come through a source – the National Lottery – widely viewed as a form of regressive taxation. (Ross, ‘Nice Work if you Can Get it: The Mercurial Career of Creative Industries Policy’, pp. 23-24)

I am not arguing that the cultural sector is atavistic and the creative industries are the future. Hardly. I think what the hinge is between the two in the UK is precisely a question of biopolitics; or, ethics as embodiment, organisation as composition, and affect as power. Partly this has to do with very different business models–public funding, private investment, theatre ticket sales, IP and monopoly rents, crowd funding, self-funding (i.e. indebtedness).

Let’s return to Sørensen and Villadsen, The naked manager. They analyse the documentary about a day in the life of Aalbæk by following ‘focus points’: “1. The CEO’s body, including his pose, context, behaviour, dress and verbal utterances. 2. The intertextuality of images, that is, explicit or implicit references to managerial mythologies, figures, ideologies, utopias and so on. 3. The inherent paradox of authenticity versus the invocation of familiar conventions or ‘styles’ around which many of Aalbæk’s performances seem to revolve” (258). This is little more than a semiotics of film images. But what then is an image, a sign?

Spinoza therefore sets apart two domains which were always confused in earlier traditions: that of expression and of the expressive knowledge which is alone adequate; and that of signs and of knowledge by signs, through apophasis or analogy. Spinoza distinguishes different sorts of signs: indicative signs, which lead us to infer something from the state of our body; imperative signs, which lead us to grasp laws as moral laws; and revelatory signs which themselves lead us to obey them and which at the very most disclose to us certain “propria” of God. But whatever its sort, knowledge through signs is never expressive, and remains of the first kind. Indication is not an expression, but a confused state of involvement in which an idea remains powerless to explain itself or to express its own cause. An imperative sign is not an expression, but a confused impression which leads us to believe that the true expressions of God, the laws of nature, are so many commandments. Revelation is not an expression, but a cultivation of the inexpressible, a confused and relative knowledge through which we lend God determinations analogous to our own… (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, pg. 181)

 

A sensorimotor circuit. Not a sign, not signifier, but a customary, expressive and habituated assemblage of intensive quantities (light, movement, synaesthesia, muscle memory, shade, focus, sound, montage, anticipation, rhythm, action-potentials, etc.) that constitute what Spinoza called multiplicities with a very great number of parts. (I’m playing a little fast and loose here, and Deleuze’s analysis of Modal Existence in Expression in Philosophy (EiP), pp. 200-03 would need to be unpacked much more carefully for this to be rigorous as an addition to Deleuzean image theory). Note that the quantity, power or affects of the multiplicity do not proceed from the various parts, but ‘rather because it is infinite that it divides into a multitude of parts exceeding any number’ (Deleuze, EiP, 203). This certainly at a point involves what Lacan called cathexis and what Althusser called ideology, but in its affective ontology, an image immediately affects neurological circuits. This immediacy scares dogmatic dialecticians. It can be the organising point of radical affective politics that experiment and compose in ecologies of sensation.

So the terrain of struggle shifts with feedbacks to strategies. New orderings of the past, the emergence of digital memory — no more liberatory than prior regimes — enmeshed in networked control and capitalist capture (shift from visibility-discipline to neuro-modulation as value management). We affirm an exit from capitalist value that is both collective and involved in the intensive construction of abstract diagrams of political and psychic singularisations. Within and against neoliberal accumulation, its prosumers, and cults of individuality and spectacle, a constant circulation of bodies. Isn’t this why Proust returns, his style, his assemblage? Guattari links assemblages to style. To construct an experimentation in style that queers digital control to the threshold of exit from semiocapitalism (Berardi), pursuing diagrams for an anti-fascist life.

I think of my brother Saleh Asadi, who lives in Palestine-Israel. I think of his family and their relation to Gaza, to Hamas, to struggle and the histories of dispossession and murder. Will there be a shift in policy? By all indications Obama has affirmed zionism. Where will the new media awareness of the ongoing horrors of that death camp they have reduced Gaza to take the different movements for justice and equality? How will the boycott of Israel–economic? cultural?–effect these struggle in Palestine? What infrastructures of hacking can common resources affirming these struggles? Equality understood as sexual, gendered, raced, economic, and material. To turn then our attention to the world. What do we see? The rise of Isis has been decried in the LRB as the birth of a terrifying nation but it is being hailed as an exit from the west by some diasporic Muslims here in East London. We see the disporportionate death and destruction visited upon the people and lived space of Gaza.

This must stop? But how?

FirstPersonShooter

With Sandra Mezzadra and others associated with UniNomade, I want to link dynamics of workers refusal of measure to questions of capital’s specific, if heterogeneous, deployment of affect through a consideration of this passage from

James Ash, Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating
the event in processes of videogame design and testing, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 653 – 671:
http://www.academia.edu/4906196/Ash_Architectures_of_affect_anticipating_and_manipulatingthe_event_in_processes_of_videogame_design_and_testing

CAREFULLY.

As a preface, I should note that I have been reading Being and Time (his etymologism, so valued by subsequent deconstruction as method, tends toward an image of thought as authentic depth; his analysis of equipmentality is profoundly generative), with Hegel or Spinoza (an infinite text), reading Mezzadra’s excellent work:

Mezzadra S, 2006, ‘Borders,migrations, citizenship’, translated by Casas Cortes, S Cobarrubias,
http://deletetheborder.org/node/1515
Mezzadra S, 2007, ‘Living in transition: toward a heterolingual theory of the multitude
transversal’, in The Politics of Culture: Around theWork of Naoki Sakai Eds R F Calichman,
J N Kim (Routledge, London) pp 121 ^ 137, http://eipcp.net/transversal/1107/mezzadra/en
Mezzadra S, 2009a, `Italy, operaism and post-operaism’, in International Encyclopedia of
Revolution and Protest Ed. I Ness (Blackwell, Oxford) pp 1841 ^ 1845
Mezzadra S, 2009b, `The labyrinth of contemporary migrations’ European Alternatives
http://www.euroalter.com/2009/sandro-mezzadra-the-labyrinth-of-contemporary-migrations/
Mezzadra S, 2010, `The gaze of autonomy. Capitalism, migration and social struggles’, in
The Contested Politics of Mobility: Borderzones and Irregularity Ed.V Squires (Routledge,
London) pp 121 ^ 142
Mezzadra S, 2011a, `How many histories of labour? Towards a theory of postcolonial capitalism’
Postcolonial Studies 14(2) 1 ^ 20

And thinking about methods of worker’s inquiries in different forms of community organising in East London.

Part of this set of researches into ontological methods has led me to consider the role of play in contemporary capital. Hence, James Ash, Architectures of affect: anticipating and manipulating
the event in processes of videogame design and testing, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010, volume 28, pages 653 – 671.

Let us consider this passage from the phenomenon of its intensities and sensations, as Massumi suggests, that is from an analysis of durations.

The game designers increased the length of the animation that was played every
time the user reloaded the grenade launcher. In the first testing sessions the reloading
process took less than two seconds; in the amended version the same reloading process
took close to four seconds. Although this difference may sound inconsequential to the
casual observer, the extended delay put the user at a severe disadvantage when taking
part in a multiplayer match. The two extra seconds left the user essentially defenceless;
they were unable to fire back if they encountered an enemy. As such, after each shot,
users would have to react defensively whilst the grenade launcher reloaded, and this
gave rival users a chance to enact their revenge. Through alterations made to the delay
between cause (hitting the Y button to reload on the Xbox 360 control pad) and effect
(having a reloaded grenade and the ability to fire again), the designers were able to
alter the potentiality of users’ responses to various contextual events and encounters
within any one match. By extending this delay, the designers were able to reduce
negatively affective encounters–they could minimise the experience of frustration
for the user–and avoid a breakdown in the user’s captivated state. Quite literally the
designers could design out the potential for creating particular visceral states in
users, such as the tense, shifting, agitated bodies described earlier. On the one hand, users waiting for the grenade launcher to reload experienced anxiety and a feeling that
time was passing very slowly as their avatar was exposed during the reload animation.
On the other hand, the other user who had been shot at with the grenade launcher
was given an increased window in which to react, which was experienced as a very
small amount of time to shoot at the other user. By extending the time taken to reload
the grenade launcher, the game designers could avoid the experience of time inter-
vening in and replacing the captivation of users (other than those using the grenade
launcher)…. After it had been altered to be less powerful and to
take longer to reload, users had to focus more closely and try to anticipate the
direction in which they thought the user might head because an indirect hit would
not kill the user. As a process of passing, time became more apparent to the user in the
seconds during which they remained vulnerable as the grenade launcher was reloading.
They were also forced to sense time more minutely because, with a reduction in the
power of the grenade launcher, the user had to track the enemy more closely in order
to successfully hit and kill an opponent. Page 664-65

This shift in the game’s architecture allowed designers to alter the potentiality of users’ responses to various contextual events and encounters within any one match. This consisted of adding two seconds between action and effect. That two second potentialized the play itself in that what happens in the intensive duration is that the possibility of having an effect in the game becomes active, thus what is opened is a kind of possibility space (Delanda’s Emergence of Synthetic Reason), interactivity becomes possibilistic. Why I like and admire this passage is that Ash is able to draw our attention to the minute intensificaiton of game play in First Person Shooter games through design strategy that attends to bodily dispositions and shifts through the process of the game play. His emphasis on the immersive quality of the gameplay is also to the point: through the process players become differentially involved in performing the competitive strategy of killing the enemy player, acting as a unit, marshalling dwindling resources (health, ammunition), keep moving to the pre-set targets. Ash writes, “As a process of passing, time became more apparent to the user in the seconds during which they remained vulnerable as the grenade launcher was reloading.
They were also forced to sense time more minutely because, with a reduction in the
power of the grenade launcher, the user had to track the enemy more closely in order
to successfully hit and kill an opponent.” This is what he calls the process of captivation and its differential modulation across gameplay, proprioceptive engagement (the player’s sense of bodily movement), and staging contingent events/encounters.

For Ash, this argument contributes to contemporary theorisations of the event:

… this paper has added to current debates regarding theorisations of
the event, emphasising what might be termed an ecological rather than absolute
conception of the event. In an absolutist notion of the event, “the event cannot be
reduced to the fact that something happens. It may rain tonight, it may not rain. This
will not be an absolute event because I know what rain is … . The arrivant must be
absolutely other” (Derrida, 2002, page 13). Instead, I have outlined a conception of the
event as a process of ecological emergence. Here an event is the outcome of a material
assemblage of various entities, forces, and rules working together to encourage and
prohibit specific forms of movement and action. Whilst an absolute account of the
event is interesting, framing the event from an ecological perspective is useful because
it allows us to begin to pick apart how the potential for events to happen are being
designed into environments (both digital and physical) and thus begin to understand
how various bodily states (such as frustration and anger or pleasure and pain) can
potentially be produced and controlled through manipulating affective relations in
the environment. This then allows us to interrogate the possible responsibilities the
designers of such environments have in the kinds of affective relations (and thus
bodies) they (potentially) construct. page 667

One must say this is rather modestly put: the implications of this argument seem to me immense. The ecological perspective on affefct is effective in producing (counter-) engineering diagrams. It is processual in that it follows events through a virtual-actual circuit of becoming and being.

What this points to is both the autonomy of affect (Massumi, 2002) and the manifestation of affect as a multiplicity which encounters different bodies in complex ways that cannot be (pre-) resolved as either simply `positive’ or `negative’ for the body that is shaped by an encounter. Rather, what I have shown across this paper is that the `shaping’ of bodies and the `infusion of affective dispositions under the skin’ are not the product of passive exposure to, or reception of, affective images. Instead, I have argued that the body is shaped through the creative responses generated by users in relation to the images they
experience, rather than the images themselves.page 668

What Ash doesn’t attend to very well, that is not ecologically enough, is the form of subjectivation this event of potentialisation incorporates. As I suggested above, potentialisation is something of the nature of a creative encounter with the world’s necessities/tendencies/capacities/degrees of freedom. We must understand FPS games as tied closely to a form of neoliberal subjectivity: the particular aggressions, anticipations, pauses, bursts (recall the pause-burst structure of Hong Kong cinema analysed by Bordwell, there is some correlation to be drawn out in terms of the modulation of intensity in martial arts films and digital FPS gaming), and so on are all linked in different ways to the sad passions of control. This is to say, that while Ash is quite good at analysing carefully the autonomy of affect (as is Massumi) through an ecological multiplicity, he is less attentive to contextualizing FPS subjectivity as it ties in with forms of neoliberal control. Admittedly that’s not his aim (nor perhaps his interest) in this article, which is focused on a kind of phenomenology of affect in game design. But to write as if the contexts of for instance the hypercompetitiveness of captialist play, the psychopathologies of security, postcolonialism, debt, and precarity, not to mention the wide ranging integration of FPS interfaces across a variety of digital platforms (recall as just one example the penultimate ‘battale royale’ sequence in kickass in which Hitgirl’s nightvision glasses becomes a firstperson shooter perspective)–all these contexts play into the ecology of affect, directly and indirectly.

Which leads us to pose the question of gameplay design from the perspective of an analysis of capitalist subjectivity today, which potentializes affect to the extent that immersive integration is successfully modulated to add value and accumulate brand equity, a kind of accumulation in the realm of affect (Clough). Ash ends his essay by noting that most FPS games don’t in fact do this: they fail at capturing attention.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Moral-Me-decisions-intercultural-ebook/dp/B00CD1YYA6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368979260&sr=8-1&keywords=cornes%2C+moral+me

Published: April 14th, 2013
Words: 35,000 (approximate)
Language: British English
ASIN: B00CD1YYA6

Alan Cornes has written an interesting book on the ethics, morality, and applicability of what he calls “interculturalism.” Although the definition of this last concept seems rather elusive to me, basically he is writing for a kind of liberal business person type, who does a lot of travelling, doesn’t want to offend foreign hosts, and wants to make killer business deals. But then the book also has another dimension (it doesn’t have many of this last, but two is good enough for me), which is his dabbling with mirror neurons leading to an argument around empathy. He writes:

Empathy is surely the one weapon in our human repertoire able to rid us of the curse of prejudice, racism, and xenophobia. Our evolutionary background makes it hard for us to identify with outsiders, we’re designed to hate our enemies, to ignore people we barely know, and to distrust those who look different from us. Even if we are cooperative team players within our own community we often become different people in our treatment of strangers. If only we could mentally structure the world around us in a way that works with this psychology instead of against it, perhaps we could begin to see people outside of our own groups, yes, even those on other continents, as a part of us, how much easier it would be to form worthwhile relations through empathy so that the process of reciprocity follows naturally thus enabling us to build on our humanity rather than fighting against it. -46

This is admirable stuff, and there is much to admire throughout the book: a commitment to an ethics of liberal care (alas I wish the author had considered a little bit more creatively the history of sympathy as a form of power); a sense of the importance of travel for business and human beings (there is a good sense throughout that wandering a bit from our comfort zones is an excellent way to develop a better “moral me”); a commitment to a kind of relativism of the subjective (finally it is the subject who decides what feels right and makes sense through the process of moral decision making). His redactive use of the mirror neuron research today notwithstanding, what Cornes seems to want through this invocation of all things neuro- is a sense of a kind of scientific clarity of the human condition. But does the mirror neuron system map on to empathy as a human virtue? What if we were to resist this anthropomorphism of the mirror neuron system? We would do well to draw back from the lure of hope, community, love, communion, imitation, and think rather of a machine of conjunction working in and through our neurology, that produces habitual perceptions (always a subtraction from what is), and a plan(e) of ecological potential repeatedly captured both in the habit itself and the capitalist value(s) it generates.

Let me explain a little bit what I have in mind here. Take this quote from Lazzarato’s The Making of Indebted Man toward a first approximation.

The independence and freedom that eutrepreneurism was supposed to bring to ‘labor” have in reality led to a greater and more intense dependence not only on institutions (business, the State, finance), but also on the self. This independence might ironically be considered the economy’s colonization of the Freudian superego, since the “ideal self” can no longer be limited to the role of custodian and guarantor of the “morals” and values of society. In addition and above all, it must be the custodian and guarantor of the individual’s productivity. We always come back to the coupling of economics and ethics, work and work on the self. The ferocious critique leveled in Anti-Oedipus against Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis can be read as anticipating the expansion of the “cure” and “analyst/analysand” transference to the management of the labor force in the corporation and to the population in society at large. The increase in psychologists’, sociologists’, and other “self-help” experts’ interventions, the creation of “coaching” for better-off workers and obligatory individual monitoring for the poor and unemployed, the explosion of “care of the self” techniques in society-these are symptoms of the new forms of individual government, which include, above all, the shaping of subjectivity. 94-5

Despite the controversy around Lazzarato and Marx and Deleuze, a debate well-worth having, since what is stake of course are the very categories of analysis and objects of antagonism/contradiction that continue to be of relevance to revolutionary Marxism–despite, I say this controversy, this understanding of the colonization of subjectivity under an infinite temporality of debt in algorithmic capital (Lazzarato doesn’t pay very close attention to the network technologies that provide the infrastructural and logistical support to neoliberalism)–the genealogy of this subjectivity forever in debt is, as Lazzarato notes, thoroughly Western capitalist and Christian. But that this very narrow notion of the subject is becoming global dominant–not through culture and ideology alone but through the ontology of insurance, extraction, logistics, and finance (see nedrossiter.org)–this shaping of the subject through self-help books like Cornes, clothed as they all are now in some transparent neuro-sheen (odd how Damasio and Ramachandran function in this discourse)–this subject is the subject of neuromarketing and financialization. This is finally why the mirror neuron system is important to capitalist extraction: make immediately productive and value generating the subject’s creative encounter with the world.

What is the power of the monstrous? Where does it get this power? Jacques Derrida, who in his early work associated the future as such with a certain monstrosity (cf Derrida’s preface to Of Grammatology), said in an interview:

A monster may be obviously a composite figure of heterogenous organisms that are grafted onto each other. This graft, this hybridization, this composition that puts heterogeneous bodies together may be called a monster. This in fact happens in certain kinds of writing. At that moment, monstrosity may reveal or make one aware of what the norm is and when this norm has a history–which is the case with discursive norms, philosophical norms, socio-cultural norms, they have a history–any appearance of monstrosity in this domain allows an analysis of the history of the norms. But to do that, one must conduct not only a theoretical analysis, one must produce what in fact looks like a discursive monster so that the analysis will be a practical effect, so that people will be forced to become aware of the history of normality. But a monster is not just that, it is not just this chimerical figure in some way that grafts one animal onto another, one living being onto another. A monster is always alive, let us not forget. Monsters are living beings. This monster is also that which appears for the first time, and consequently, is not yet recognized. A monster is a species for which we do not yet have a name, which does not mean that the species is abnormal, namely, the composition or hybridization of already known species. Simply, it shows itself–that is what the word monster means–it shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no anticipation had prepared one to identify this figure. . . . But as soon as one perceives a monster in a monster, one begins to domesticate it, one begins, because of the `as such’–it is a monster as monster–to compare it to the norms to analyze it, consequently to master whatever could be terrifying in this figure of the monster. And the movement of accustoming oneself, but also of legitimation and, consequently, of normalization, has already begun. However monstrous events or texts may be, from the moment they enter into culture, the movement of acculturation, precisely, of domestication, of normalization has already begun. . . . This is the movement of culture. Texts and discourses that provoke at the outset reactions of rejection, that are denounced precisely as anomalies or monstrosities are often texts that, before being in turn appropriated, assimilated, acculturated, transform the nature of the field of reception, transform the nature of social and cultural experience, historical experience. All history has shown that each time an event has been produced, for example in philosophy or in poetry, it took the form of the unacceptable, or even of the intolerable, of the incomprehensible, that is, of a certain monstrosity” (Derrida, Points 385-87)

There are some key tools for the method of ontogenesis in Derrida’s words. (more…)

We insist on one thing. Duration.

And the diagram.

And affect.

Ok that’s already quite a crowd, well but isn’t there an entire method in these three vector-concepts: duration, diagram, affect?

What is the duration of a habit, say the habit of smoking or the habit of playing a guitar? Remember what Toscano teaches us about habit:

The stakes of the debate come down to the extension that is to be ascribed to habit. The minimalist option is to relegate it to an operation characterized by acquisition through repetition, by the decrease of intensity and the perfectibility of action. From this perspective, habit itself is not productive of beings. It is only with the second approach that we can begin to consider the idea of habit as an agent or factor of individuation. If, as Lalande and Egger propose, habit as contraction is to be severed from habit as the state or property of a thing, the former can no longer be considered as ontologically constitutive: it merely designates a process that affects or qualifies an already constituted entity, whether this entity be physical, biological or psychic. On the contrary, if we follow the indications of contributors such as Lachelier, habit can be considered both as the general state of being and as the procedure whereby this state is attained, in such a manner that the difference between the dynamics of individuation and the state of the individuated is only relative. Punctuating this debate about the significance of state and process in the definition of habit we encounter three questions, all of which are indicated by the Vocabulaire: the distinction between passive and active habits; the relationship between habit and repetition; the question of habit’s relationship to the organic. The Theatre of Production, 111-12

The most important lesson here to my mind is that a diagramming of habit is both a conceptual and material experimentation on the capacities of the embodied mind, or an affirmation of becoming (same “thing”). We must insist that any such diagram is in fact a practice of assembling with the organic processes, differentiating active and passive habits, understanding the ontogenetic (or materialist, pragmatic) dimension of repetition itself.

Many critics begin analysis with power (at times in particular ways, Foucault’s problem). But what is the ontological status of relations of power? Of domination?

If in the 1920s the avant-garde had been an elite phenomenon, by the 1970s it was becoming a mass experiment in creating a semiotic environment for life. Thanks to the radios, thanks to the autonomous zines spreading all over, a large scale process of mass irony was launched. Irony meant the suspension of the semantic heaviness of the world. Suspension of the meaning that we give to gestures, to relationships, to the shape of the thing. We saw it as a suspension of the kingdom of necessity and were convinced that power has power as far as those who have no power take power seriously. Indeed when irony becomes a mass language, power loses ground, authority and strength. (Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody 21)

This strikes me as a little too optimistic, but it is so much better in terms of capacities to begin with the ironization of power. Foucault does this brilliantly, ruthlessly, hilariously, without romanticism. Yet, the gesture that starts with power (the State [a return to governmentality would do this tendency good] or the Law [Autonomista zindabad!], etc. etc.) is also, generally, a gesture simultaneous with a genuflection to a particularly stupid figure of contemporary criticism: the subaltern. Kill the subaltern, and criticism can instead become subaltern, become minor through all your becomings. Remember what Deleuze says of minorities:

The difference between minorities and majorities isn’t their size. A minority may be bigger than a majority. What defines the majority is a model [norm] you have to conform to: the average European adult male city-dweller, for example. A minority, on the other hand, has no model, it’s a becoming, a process. One might say the majority is nobody. Everybody’s caught, one way or another, in a minority becoming that would lead them into unknown paths if they opted to follow it through. Deleuze, Control and Becoming 173

Not minorities as preconstituted categories of a population segmentation mechanism generated by the Googlezon. Contemporary marketing in a particular irony that only they seem unaware of considers contemporary segementation merely an extension of VOP – the Voice of the People!! Consider:

In this study, we propose to harness the growing body of free, unsolicited, user-generated online content for automated market research. Specifically, we describe a novel text-mining algorithm for analyzing online customer reviews to facilitate the analysis of market structure in two ways. First, the VOC, as presented in user-generated comments, provides a simple, principled approach to generating and selecting product attributes for market structure analysis. In contrast, traditional methods rely on a predefined set of product attributes (external analysis) or ex post interpretation of derived dimensions from consumer surveys (internal analysis). Second, the preponderance of opinion, as represented in the continuous stream of reviews over time, provides practical input to augment traditional approaches (e.g., surveys, focus groups) for conducting brand sentiment analysis and can be done (unlike traditional methods) continuously, automatically, inexpensively, and in real time.

This is from an article in the European Journal of Marketing by T. Lee and E. Bradlow, entitled: “Automated Marketing Research Using On-line Customer Reviews” (Vol. XLVIII (October 2011), 881 –894, 881-82). What is the aim of market structure analysis? It is in fact much broader than segmenting a market.

Abstract: market structure analysis is a basic pillar of marketing research. classic challenges in marketing such as pricing, campaign management, brand positioning, and new product development are rooted in an analysis of product substitutes and complements inferred from market structure. in this article, the authors present a method to support the analysis and visualization of market structure by automatically eliciting product attributes and brand’s relative positions from online customer reviews. First, the method uncovers attributes and attribute dimensions using the “voice of the consumer,” as reflected in customer reviews, rather than that of manufacturers. second, the approach runs automatically. Third, the process supports rather than supplants managerial judgment by reinforcing or augmenting attributes and dimensions found through traditional surveys and focus groups. The authors test the approach on six years of customer reviews for digital cameras during a period of rapid market evolution. They analyze and visualize results in several ways, including comparisons with expert buying guides, a laboratory survey, and correspondence analysis of automatically discovered product attributes. The authors evaluate managerial insights drawn from the analysis with respect to proprietary market research reports from the same period analyzing digital imaging products.

This Voice of the People bullshit is particularly revolting when you consider that by voice of the people they really mean an automated algorithm-driven process of auditing, and eventually modulating and controlling various semiotic flows (online reviews, but the semiosis of computer code as well, the semiosis of “managerial judgment” and traditional marketing structure analysis) and bodily dispositions and assemblages.

Which returns us to thinking control and marketing. If we could say that habits are like clichés or refrains of our life, we must consider the integration of our habits with contemporary forms of capitalist valorization (the production and accumulation of profits). Something has happened to the world since the days of discipline described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. What is this something? It is the shift from capitalist production of commodities to the rise of the precariat of cognitive labor, which more simply can be understood as the informatization of all aspects of capitalist life, such that capital no longer wants labor, as much as packets of time that are flexible, intermittent, modular, informatized-digitized, and networked (see Berardi:

When we move into the sphere of info-labor there is no longer a need to have bought a person for eight hours a day indefinitely. Capital no longer recruits people, but buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers. Depersonalized time has become the real agent of the process of valorization, and depersonalized time has no rights, nor any demands. It can only be either available or unavailable, but the alternative is purely theoretical because the physical body despite not being a legally recognized person still has to buy food and pay rent. (Precarious Rhapsody 32-33)

).

And yet discipline persists, normality exerts enormous pressures on us all the time, and we make compromises with forms of power that generate through us bad compositions of matter, information, desire, bodies, and value. It’s the source of the shame of being human. How can we cast off this shame? This shame being an effect of badly analyzed composites?

If we are undergoing the most intensive acceleration of everyday life through networked information, how have such habits been affected at the level of the assemblage of durations and desires? Berardi and others speak of an attention economy, the simplest expression of which is if you are paying attention money can be made on that attention itself. Can we develop habits of occupying spaces such as the protestors have done at St Paul’s Cathedral? It would be a good habit to encourage in all of us. Collective occupation of privatized space. But why have these protestors merely settled for occupying cold, cold stairs. Why not take the occupation inside the cathedral itself? Impossible to conceive at the moment, as the occupation experiences itself winding down due to various internal and external forces.

What does the Occupation have to do with Marketing? What does it have to do with what Foucault called Panopticism, and to what Deleuze called Control?

Franco Berardi asks,

What is the market? The market is the place in which signs and nascent meanings, desires and projections meet. If we want to speak of demand and supply, we must reason in terms of fluxes of desire and semiotic attractors that formerly had appeal and today have lost it. In the net economy, flexibility has evolved into a form of fractalization of work. Fractalization means the modular and recombinant fragmentation of the time of activity. The worker no longer exists as a person. He or she is only an interchangeable producer of microfragments of recombinant semiosis that enter into the continuous flux of the Net. Capital no longer pays for the availability of a worker to be exploited for a long period of time; it no longer pays a salary that covers the entire range of economic needs of a person who works. The worker (a machine endowed with a brain that can be used for fragments of time) becomes paid for his or her occasional, temporary services. Work time is fragmented and cellularized. Cells of time are for sale on the Net and businesses can buy as much as they want without being obligated in any way in the social protection of the worker. The intense and prolonged investment of mental and libidinal energies in the labor process has created the conditions for a psychic collapse that is transferred into the economic field with the recession and the fall in demand and into the political field in the form of military aggressivity. The use of the word collapse is not as a metaphor but as a clinical description of what is happening in the occidental mind. The word collapse expresses a real and exact pathological phenomenon that invests the psycho-social organism. That which we have seen in the period following the first signs of economic decline, in the first months of the new century, is a psychopathic phenomenon of over-excitation, trembling, panic and finally of a depressive fall. The phenomena of economic depression have always contained elements of the crisis of the psychosocial equilibrium, but when at last the process of production has involved the brain in a massive way, psychopathology has become the crucial aspect of economic cycles. The available attention time for the workers involved in the informatic cycle is constantly being reduced: they are involved in a growing number of mental tasks that occupy every fragment of their attention time. For them there is no longer the time to dedicate to love, to tenderness, to affection. They take Viagra because they don’t have time for sexual preliminaries. They take cocaine to be continuously alert and reactive. They take Prozac to cancel out the awareness of the senselessness that unexpectedly empties their life of any interest. Franco Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody

What is the nature of a connection? I have been influenced by Franco Berardi (Bifo) recently. He points out that definitions have to be approached through multiple strategies because what is important is shocking thought by the reconstitution of a virtual field of sense and sensation. In other words, part of what is at stake in understanding marketing is the creation of new concepts commensurate with marketing’s specific ecology of media and perception, and new affects that work toward an untimely experience of marketing. What is an untimely experience of marketing?

Considering the untimely is why this module has become something of an extended meditation and experimentation on habits. Habit is both an achieved state and a process in itself. Habit, in short, is productive of intensive difference through its repetitions. This is not a difficult notion. But wait.

If differences are produced in processes of repetitive reconnection or refrains, ethics becomes in fact both a diagramming of refrains and a counter-actualization of the forms of habituated duration that are miring us in their spectacles. Bifo again:

The refrain is an obsessive ritual that is initiated in linguistic, sexual, social, productive, existential behaviour to allow the individual – the conscious organism in continuous variation – to find identification points, that is, to territorialize oneself and to represent oneself in relation to the world that surrounds it. The refrain is the modality of semiotization that allows an individual (a group, a people, a nation, a subculture) to receive and project the world according to reproducible and communicable formats. In order for the cosmic, social and molecular universe to be filtered through an individual perception, in order for it, we may thus say, to enter the mind, filters or models of semiotization must act, and these are models that Guattari called refrains.
The perception of time by a society, a culture or a person is also the model of a truly temporal refrain, that is, of particular rhythmic modulations that function as modules for accessing, awaiting and participating in cosmic temporal becoming. From this perspective, universal time appears to be no more than a hypothetical projection, a time of generalized equivalence, a ‘flattened’ capitalistic time; what is important are these partial modules of temporalization, operating in diverse domains (biological, ethological, socio-cultural, machinic, cosmic …) , and out of which complex refrains constitute highly relative existential synchronies. (Chaosmosis, 16)
What is the fundamental passage through which the anthropological transformation of modern capitalism is determined? This passage consists in the creation of refrains of temporal perception that invade and discipline all society: the refrain of factory work, the refrain of working hours, the refrain of the salary, the refrain of the production line. The postindustrial transition brings along with it the formation and imposition of new refrains: the refrain of electronic speed, the refrain of information overload, the refrain of digitalization. My feeling of personal identity is thus pulled in different directions. How can I maintain a relative sense of unicity, despite the diversity of components of subjectivation that pass through me? It’s a question of the refrain that fixes me in front of the screen, henceforth constituted as a projective existential node. My identity has become that of the speaker, the person who speaks from the television. (Chaosmosis, 16–17) In communication, obsessive and fixated types of nuclei are determined; certain refrains thicken and solidify, entering into resonance and producing effects of double bind. When the existential flow gets rigidly brought back to logical, mythological, ideological or psychic refrains, behaviour tends to become paranoid. For example, when the money refrain becomes the structuring element of all social and communicative life, this engenders behavioural paradoxes, paranoid anticipations, social double binds, and depression.

To work counter to our time, and so to work on our time, in the hopes of a time to come. That is, ethics would be a recomposition of a body’s habituated durations.

So in answering the question about the connections this course is making for you, define this course through your habits. What connections between information, neurology, matter, energy, perception, chemistry, habits, speeds, intensity, joy, desire, capital, discipline/control, and becomings do your habits make in its existential being. As should be clear from the syllabus (available here), the connections I am bringing together is a critique of capital in the Marxist tradition of revolutionary becoming, new untimely lifeworlds through radical practices of aesthetics, love, friendship, kinship, and community dwelling. In other words, the creation of untimely ecologies of sensation, that is ecologies that work counter to our time and thereby work on our time by reorganizing the set of refrains (habit) that lull us in blocs of dominant temporalities.

We are reading Kline No Logo, watching It Felt Like a Kiss, by Adam Curtis, reading Guy Debord, and reading Wark’s The Beach Beneath the Street, listening to Bifo on Mp3, we are taking photos, making videos, creating webpages, we dream of situations and apps that will disrupt the accumulation of data-in-marketing, we drink, smoke (too much, too much), but keep excerising. Trying to live a resonance that would be plastic enough to affirm a practice while also making that practice an affirmation of becoming. An ecology of sensation.

We are thinking information in terms of the untimely. As should be clear from all I have said, ethics for it to affirm becoming must work in the service of a time to come, not a time of freedom and equality, but a practice of assemblages of temporal blocs (a minute, a summer, an afternoon are singularities as Deleuze and Guattari remind us in What is Philosophy?).

Sundaram writes in the mode of the postmedia postcolonial critic. But it was Guattari, as Bifo notes, who saw the infinite potentiality of information society. This is not an affirmation of informational capital, it is not a capitulation to the desires of consumer society, it is not the production of spectacles. In some sense, it is merely a return to the virtual that is at stake. The virtual in so far as it is fully real, but not actualized (affects and tendencies are fully real, but their most important characteristic is that they remain ontologically tied to a phylum that is purely potential). Isn’t that why information, and more specifically practices that gradually diagram the ontological (the composition of multiplicities along gradients of intensity), informational dimensions of data, energy, attention, perception. Information can then be thought of as a cut into affect itself, a cut in time, both a measure (in order to be information very specific critical thresholds of noise must be exceeded) and intensive (or semio-chemical) flow.

Regardless, I return to the question of connections. What is marketing today? What are the refrains of marketing? Its habituations? Its attractions? The emergence of the brand that Kline writes about is rooted in a history of radical politics, from anti-colonial, feminist-socialist, to postcolonial movements against the grain of capitalist globalization, or integrated world capitalism. Over the weekend, thousands and thousands of people the world over participated in occupations of public and private space. This practice of occupation you know is very interesting. Dan Moshenberg tells the great joke, and Dan does this again and again, whenever he sees students at GWU sitting around together he asks them, Are you with the occupation?

Well are you?


Banksy!